Thursday, June 16, 2011

Faith Without Proof- An analysis of Owen Meany

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In the novel A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving, religious faith is explored. Complete faith in God’s existence is contrasted by doubt caused by the lack of substantial evidence. John Irving asks, “can a man fully and faithfully believe in God without any definitive proof?” The answer is not so simple. The two main protagonists, Owen Meany and John Wheelwright exemplify the different views on religious faith. Owen has many passionately held religious convictions and devotedly believes in God while John on the other hand, is more of a skeptic and questions faith and events in life. As the boys grow up and mature, their faith becomes stronger and stronger. Owen’s unwavering belief in fate and faith help John diminish his doubt and embrace God and faith without any definitive proof.

From the very beginning of the novel Owen Meany is introduced as a resolute believer in God. “People are helpless to fate, victims of time…like faith, what Hardy believed was naked, plain, vulnerable… Never confuse faith, or belief of any kind with something even remotely intellectual…Plunge in�Just begin (548).” According to Owen, everything has a destiny and a place in life. A perfect example of this is chapter three when Owen enters John’s Mother’s room late at night. He claims to have seen an angel leaning over her bed. Later in the book he relates that event to the death of John’s mother, Tabby Wheelwright. Owen believes he disturbed the Angel of Death and therefore as an instrument of God, was destined to hit the fated baseball that Killed Tabby. Owen told John, God has taken your mother. My hands were the instrument. God has taken my hands. I am gods instrument (86). Through his ever-present faith in God, Owen Meany helps strengthen and even bring true faith into John’s life.

“A person’s faith goes at its own pace ().” John Wheelwright was very different from his best friend Owen. Unlike Owen, John could not just accept faith without definitive proof and struggled throughout the whole novel to find a balance between faith in God and the lack of evidence in God’s existence. Although many people and events contributed to John’s belief in God, Owen Meany left the greatest mark. “Look at you�you never even believed in God’ you’ve said so, and her you are ascribing to the hand of God everything that happened to Owen Meany (46)!”His constant confidence and apparent intuition regarding everything in life baffled John. For example, in chapter 1 young John and Owen are skipping rocks near their houses. Owen who never throws a rock very far, launches a rock so far out that even the seagulls scatter. This occurred just as he was assuring John that God would reveal his father’s identity to him in due time. Along with this, the ‘dreams’ that Owen has regarding his heroic death lead John to believe his friend is anything but ordinary. Owen Meany began his extensive involvement in John’s faith in God.

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John Wheelwright is a devoted believer in God, but as a child he had many doubts. How can someone believe in something that can’t be seen, touched, or explained? Sometimes faith just has to be discovered and felt. This is exactly what Owen gave John�the ability to feel the effects of faith through a miracle. “Miracles don’t cause belief�real miracles don’t make faith out of thin air; you have to already have faith in order to believe in real miracles (46).” Even though his faith was always there, it needed something to fortify it; in John’s case all it took was a slight miracle from his best friend. Pastor Merrill cleverly sums up the discrepancy between faith and doubt and the part Owen’s “miracle” played in it. “Its easier for you to just accept it…you haven’t lived with belief, and with unbelief. Its easier for you…you haven’t ever been full of faith, and full of doubt. Something just strikes you as a miracle, and you believe it. For me, its not that simple (46).”

The question of faith that John Irving arises in A Prayer For Owen Meany is not a simply answered one for there is no right answer. Many of the characters including, John Wheelwright, Pastor Merrill, and even Owen Meany himself struggle with religious faith and belief in the seemingly unbelievable. Owen provides the constant, assured religious convictions while John initially questions his faith. He is convinced that there cannot be both faith and doubt in a person’s mind, which leaves him needing to make a choice between the two extremes. Owen Meany provides the answer to John Irving’s question. Through his extraordinary life and death, Owen offers the evidence that John was looking for and thus diminishes his battle to make a decisive choice. ...Mary Magdalene the statue that Owen said was like the God he knew was there--even in the dark, even though invisible...I have no doubt that Owen is there (47).

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